“It’s all Twitter’s fault” said Turkish PM Emine Erdoğan on Saturday 1 June following the protests that spread around the country. “There is now a menace which is called Twitter. The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”
Twitter has indeed become an important communications tool for political protests and certainly the events of the Arab Spring, especially in Egypt constituted a tangible proof of that.
In Turkey, especially in large cities, almost everyone has at least one cell phone, and many of them are Internet enabled. (You must provide your citizen ID number to get one which also means that the surveillance capacity is also broad although the amount of data means that the surveillance is likely targeted rather than just broad and random). Facebook is very common, with more than 30 million users. (It’s in the top ten worldwide).
About 16% of the Internet population also uses Twitter and, as in here, Twitter is very important exactly because who those 16% are. In fact, probably more important because it is not everyone and creates a somewhat more exclusive space though that is eroding (Source: technosociology).
Overall, the social media response to the protests has been staggering. Between Friday and Saturday, at least 2 million tweets mentioning hashtags related to the protest (#direngezipark, #occupygezi, #geziparki) were sent. At one point, more than 3,000 tweets about the protest were published every minute.
While mass media are often censored during large-scale political protests, Social Media channels remain relatively open and can be used to tell the world what is happening and to mobilize support all over the world. From an analytic perspective tweets with geo information are especially interesting.
According to Benedikt Koehler, ”Turkish Spring” or “Turkish Summer” are misleading terms as the situation in Turkey cannot be compared to the events during the “Arab Spring”. I agree with the author both in substance and on an analytical point. The movement in Turkey is the very first protest movement in the Middle-East where we can see two channels that are widely recognized for two very specific goals: demonstrating solidarity and coordinating the protest.
#occupygezi has been used mainly to express solidarity and raise awareness. See the mapping of the hashtag below. The use of this hashtag is global and between 1-4 June almost 2 million mentions of #occupygezi have been recorded.
It is true that there is also a Twitter account called #occupygezi with currently over 17000 followers but people are mostly using the hashtag to get info about the outcry.
On the hand #direngezi is used mainly used coordinate the protests but also to raise awareness and live commenting. As you can see from the map below, mentions of #direngezi mainly occur in Turkey and the MENA area.
Another interesting thing to look at is the proliferation of tweet during the first days of the movment
This video displays all geolocated tweets related to the #occupygezi #direngezipark protests in Istanbul, from May 31 to June 3, 2013.
It shows the high volume of activity on Twitter over this period, and how the protest started in Gezi Park but then spread to the entire city in the matter of hours.
In addition to being a tool for reporting, Twitter has allowed activists to share information about resisting police brutality. Under the Turkey subcategory on Reddit, a user posted an Occupy Wall Street guide to defending against teargas for Turkish activists.
#occupygezi sets a precedent for social media activism. It certainly represents a development from the lessons learnt during the Arab Spring and highlights the need of central coordination for digital activists.
By Pablo Barberá (http://www.pablobarbera.com) and Megan Metzger; PhD students, Department of Politics, New York University.
Data from Social Media and Political Participation Lab (New York University) http://smapp.nyu.edu
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